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Interview With Texas Congressman Michael McCaul; Cancer on the Rise?; Olympic Terror Threat; CNN Commissions Test of West Virginia Water; FDA's New "Bully" Ads on Smoking

Aired February 4, 2014 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Vladimir Putin arrives in Sochi, as the director of the National Counterterrorism Center here in the U.S. says they are tracking specific threats against the Olympics.

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The world. Just three days to go, tens of thousands of people from all over the country are coming. How many of them are going to end up sleeping at the Sochi bus station? Troubling reports that Russia is not finished building Olympic hotels, as yet another ominous threat is made toward athletes.

The national lead. You either know somebody who has had it or you have battled it yourself, a terrifying prediction from the World Health Organization, a -- quote -- "human disaster looming before us," an explosion in cancer rates. What is the FDA doing right now to fight back?

And the pop culture lead: what is taking all of the fun out of it for $600, Alex? Some fans don't care for the way the reining "Jeopardy" champ is winning. He will defend his unorthodox strategy that has already won him $100,000 and counting right here on THE LEAD.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We will begin with the world lead.

It's just three days now until some of the finest athletes in the world gather for the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. But, unfortunately, much of the buzz leading up to the Games has not been great. In the most recent incident, a kidnapping threat was made against two members of the Austrian team in a letter sent anonymously

There were also the two terrorist attacks in Volgograd in December killing 34 people and of course repeated threats to attack the Games if awards were given for readiness. The question is, would Russia even medal at this point?

Today, Russian President Vladimir Putin arrived in Sochi to enjoy the double toilet stalls for himself at Russia's grand Olympic build-out. The price tag for the Olympics is at least $50 billion, though Russia says infrastructure costs should not count.

Putin wanted the world to know, hey, Russia is just getting warmed up.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I would like to assure you, dear friends, that Russia is always open for new sporting ideas, projects and events. And it's ready to support and realize all these initiatives -- to create these initiatives for our common Olympic family.


TAPPER: News sporting events? Hold up. I know Russia is hosting the World Cup in 2018, but maybe we should see how this Olympics goes first before booking any future events, because while most of the event venues are ready, many of the hotel and accommodations are still, still under construction.

And then, of course, there's Sochi Park, a $371 million theme park that the locals calls Putin world. Sort of It's a Small World at Disneyland with only the Russian kids singing. But now NBC News is reporting that park will not be open in time for the Games either.

Yet, earlier today, Putin promised the Games would be a grandiose event. After that, of course, it was time for another one of my favorite sketches, Vladimir Putin talks to animals. In the past, we have seen Putin get cuddly with all kinds of critters, and it's always a sharp contrast with his usual stone-faced demeanor. Today, he visited endangered snow leopards, one of the Games' mascots.

Hi there, snow leopard. Did you know I am the president of Russia? OK. Say hello to your mother for me.

And back here in the U.S., the House Intelligence Committee held a hearing on worldwide terror threats and National Counterterrorism Center Director Matt Olsen was asked about the security situation in Sochi.


REP. MIKE THOMPSON (D), CALIFORNIA: Do you know of any specific threats targeting the Olympics?

MATTHEW OLSEN, NATIONAL COUNTERTERRORISM DIRECTOR: There are a number of specific threats of varying degrees of credibility that we're tracking. This is what we expected. It's what we saw in the run-up to prior Olympic Games and prior events like these.

So, there are a number of specific threats, as we discussed in the closed session yesterday.


TAPPER: For more on those threats, let's bring in the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Republican Michael McCaul. He recently traveled to Sochi.

Chairman McCaul, good to see you.


TAPPER: You were briefed this morning. Can you give us any more information on these specific threats that Matt Olsen is referring to?

MCCAUL: Well, there are specific threats out there, but you don't have to look too far in the past.

We had two suicide bombings in December that hit a train station and a bus. And the proximity of Sochi to where the terrorists reside is what gives me the most pause.

I think that, in addition to the sort of bin Laden leader of the Northern Caucasus calling for attacks on Sochi and the Olympics, which has been reinforced now by Zawahri, the al Qaeda leader who was the lieutenant to bin Laden, should give anybody pause.

But to answer your question, yes, there are specific threats out there. There is a general concern, a little bit of anxiety. I did travel to Sochi. I saw the black widow most wanted pictures. It's a little eerie to think that one of those actually got inside the ring of steel.

I think the greatest threat, however, Jake, is probably outside this ring of steel perimeter, where you have the softer targets that I think are more vulnerable to one of these attacks.


TAPPER: Would you go? Would you let your family go to the Olympics?

MCCAUL: Well, I'm always asked that question. I did go to Sochi.

I would not discourage anybody from attending the Olympics to support our teams to bring home the gold medal. I do think to do otherwise really empowers the terrorists and lets them win.

And so I think we need to support them. My only advice would be if they stay inside the Olympic Village. It's very well-fortified. And it's outside the village where I think the real threat resides, which is why they told our athletes not to exit the Olympic Village with their uniforms on with the American flag. And so for any spectator as well, I would give that same advice.

TAPPER: CNN has confirmed that the Austrian Olympics Committee received a letter written in German threatening two female members of the Winter Olympic team.

Does this concern you as a credible threat? And are you aware of any similar threats to American athletes?

MCCAUL: Sure, I have seen the reports of the kidnapping threats.

I think what I'm most concerned about are these suicide bombers and the IEDs, which is a weapon of choice for the Chechen rebels. They have been at war with the Russians for about 150 years. They spun into a radical Islamic militant group. And I think the idea of detonation of explosives, both to aviation, but also to transportation modes on the ground, is probably where the greatest threat exists, and I'm just praying that we have a safe and successful Olympics.

TAPPER: There have been concerns also about basic preparedness, beyond security, especially when it comes to the arrival of family members, reporters. Our own CNN team arrived to find that their hotel wasn't ready and they had to find other accommodations.

Stacy St. Clair of "The Chicago Tribune," she's over in Sochi covering the Olympics. She tweeted this out. "My hotel has no water. If restored, the front desk says, do not use it on your face because it contains something very dangerous."

Here's the picture of the water. She tweeted it. I don't know if you can see it, but it's the color of...


MCCAUL: It doesn't sound very good, though.

TAPPER: Let's be polite and say it's the color of apple juice. We will put it that way.


TAPPER: You were in Sochi. Did you expect them to be this unprepared for visitors? And are you concerned that this is a sign that bigger, more security-related details could fall through the cracks?

MCCAUL: Well, remember, they stood up a small resort town in the Black Sea in about two year. They put $60 billion into standing this up. When I was there staying in a hotel, only six of the nine had been completed.

The Disneyland castle that you were describing earlier had not been completed. We were told it was going to be completed by Friday. I'm not sure that's going to happen. I think Russians really kind of waited to the last minute to get this together.

But it raises a bigger, broader concern about the security aspect of this. I know they have dedicated 100,000 security personnel, 40,000 military Kazakhs, special forces. They have a high visibility on the ground.

But our cooperation I think is what is lacking with the Russians in terms of intelligence and sharing of information, in terms of emergency response, if anything happens and goes bad, and also in terms of these jamming devices against IEDs that we have the technology to use, but I'm not sure the Russians want our help on that.

TAPPER: Finally, sir, to change subjects just a little bit, as chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified last week in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee that the al Qaeda-tied group in Syria Al Nusra Front has aspirations for attacks here in the U.S. The CIA director, John Brennan, this morning said something similar about camps inside Iraq and Syria used by al Qaeda to develop capabilities applicable both in theater as well as beyond. How concerned are you by these groups attacking here in the U.S., not -- obviously aspirationally they want to, but do they have the capability to do so?

MCCAUL: It's been a threat, I believe, for the last over a year.

These rebel forces that are in Syria are training with al Qaeda factions, including Al Nusra. And I think one of the highest security threats you can think of -- I just talked to the secretary of homeland security -- is the fact that we have jihadists training in Syria that could come back to the homeland with legal travel documents and perpetrate an act of terrorism in the homeland.

And let me just add I think it's also a threat to the Sochi Olympics. Syria is really not quite that far away from Sochi. And so we're very concerned about Chechen rebels who train in Syria returning to their homeland to fight the fight against the Russians. Remember, the eyes of the world are going to be on these events. And what better way to make a political statement and a terrorist statement than to attack these Olympic?

TAPPER: Yes, and, of course, the Assad regime allied with Vladimir Putin and Russia.

Thank you so much, Chairman McCaul. We appreciate it.

MCCAUL: Thank you, Jake. Thanks for joining me.

TAPPER: Tomorrow, I will be interviewing Secretary of State John Kerry. What would you ask him? Tweet me @JakeTapper or @THELEADCNN with #Kerrylead with your questions.

Coming up: Despite assurances from the government, residents in one town where chemicals spilled into the water supply tell us they still are not concerned that the water is safe to drink. So we did our own tests on the water -- those results next.


And, later, she's not even officially running, but some Obama insiders are saying Hillary Clinton is already repeating the same mistakes she made in 2008.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The national lead now. A criminal investigation has been launched into the West Virginia chemical spill last month that forced 300,000 people to turn off the taps for days. Nine counties were affected when the company Freedom Industries leaked as much as 7,500 gallons of coal processing chemicals into the Elk River. Most people in the area are still using only bottled water, despite the assurances of the government that what is coming out of their faucets is safe to drink.

Well, now CNN has the results of our tests out this hour on the water in the Elk River.

CNN Special Investigations Unit reporter Drew Griffin joins us now.

Drew, tell us first about this criminal investigation.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, subpoenas have gone out in what we understand and can confirm is a grand jury investigation, a federal grand jury. Really, two parts to this, Jake.


Number one, looking at how this chemical got into the Elk River the first place, that would focus on the company, Freedom Industries, the two holes in their tank, why the leak went so long undetected, when did it get detected, when did they notify? That's part one.

Part two, a separate investigation into the water company of the Charleston area itself. How did the contaminated water get from the river into the water supply, through the filtration system and into the pipes and the homes of people who live in that area, which we found out still have this chemical in them today.


GRIFFIN (voice-over): Sources say the federal investigation will focus on the leak of the coal-cleaning chemical from a tank on the shores of the Elk River. How it ended up in this river and how it got into the water supply.

CNN commission an environmental testing company called Test America to gauge the level of harmful chemicals in both the river and in the homes of people who gave us permission to test water coming right out of their kitchen taps. The tests show trace amounts of the chemical MCHM still remain in all of the water samples, well within the safety levels set by the CDC.

But the two women whose water was tested say they aren't using tap water and may never again.

EMILY CHITTENDEN-LAIRD, CHARLESTON RESIDENT: There's just not a lot of information out there about this. We don't know what the long-term effects are going to be. Yes, it may not kill us but I'm concerned about my kids 20 years from now.

KARAN IRELAND, CHARLESTON RESIDENT: We're concerned about what is in it. We've heard about byproducts of the original chemical. We still smell it occasionally.

GRIFFIN: Despite assurances that the tap water in tens and thousands of homes is are fine to drink, last night, an overflowed group packed the ornate West Virginia House of Delegate chambers, all of them with the same worries. Is the water really safe? Do the people testing the water really know? And why are 300,000 people afraid they are living in what one person called chemical valley?

The CEO of the West Virginia American Water Company also appeared in public for the first time since a few days after the spill. Jeff McIntyre told the House committee the testing shows the levels of harmful chemicals in the Elk River were below dangerous levels and that his company was putting, quote, "good quality water" into people's homes and businesses.

JEFF MCINTYRE, CEO WEST VIRGINIA AMERICAN WATER: I'm using it. My wife is using it. My employees are using it. Many people I've talked to are in fact using it.

GRIFFIN: Yet only a few miles away, the head of the county health department here said only a handful of people are actually drinking the tap water. And two surveys conducted by his office, Dr. Rahul Gupta said barely 1 percent of those who responded said they were using tap water. Everyone else is still relying on bottled water. That includes his own family.

DR. RAHUL GUPTA, DIR. KANAWHA-CHARLESTON HEALTH DEPT.: I have drunk the water and my wife, who is also a physician, has also told me I better not be drinking water.

GRIFFIN: This chemical was never meant to be ingested so its impact on humans isn't known, and it may take months and even years for people in Charleston think it's safe to drink the water again.


GRIFFIN: Jake, we did hear from the water company itself on our results, which found, again, these trace elements of this chemical is still in the water supply. According to Laura Jordan, the spokesman, these levels are so low, she tells us today, they have no impact. The water, they insist, is safe to drink.

TAPPER: All right. Drew Griffin, thank you so much. Great reporting.

Coming up next, the dramatic headline from a new report. An explosion of cancer cases could lead to a, quote, "human disaster" for years to come. What the FDA is now doing to try to stop it.

Plus, he's calling out the president for what he's calling a schizophrenic policy on marijuana. We'll talk to the Republican leading the charge on the Hill, ahead.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In another national news, it is World Cancer Day today, and a new report says we're going to be dealing with a, quote, human disaster in cancer cases worldwide for years to come. The world cancer report says that new cancer cases will rise by 57 percent over the next 20 years.

Lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed. It makes up 13 percent of all cases. Although pollution plays a role, the report says cutting down smoking rates would have a significant impact and the battle is on here in the U.S. to keep today's kids from becoming tomorrow's habitual smokers.

According to a recent report by the surgeon general, although smoking is down among adults, more than 2 million under 25 were smoking in 2012, and that's up from 1.9 million 10 years earlier. So, smoking among young people is going up. So, for the first time, the federal government is stepping, with a national advertising campaign to fight youth smoking and the ads are, shall we say, fairly memorable.

Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, when I say pause the movie, we pause the movie. Come on, big boy. Pucker up.

ANNOUNCER: Cigarettes are bullies. Don't let tobacco control you.


TAPPER: And joining me now is the director of the FDA Center for Tobacco Products, Mitch Zeller.

Thank you so much for being here. We appreciate it.

And we know you're targeting kids your ages 12 to 17. You're not just going after the kids who think it looks cool to smoke. Who specifically are you targeting?

MITCH ZELLER, DIRECTOR, FDA CENTER FOR TOBACCO PRODUCTS: We're targeting 10 million of the 25 million 12 to 17-year-olds who are at risk. They are vulnerable. They lead very chaotic and stressful lives. And they're turning to cigarettes for all the wrong reasons. We have messages that can change that.

TAPPER: A lot of nonprofits have led the charge in the past, fighting teen smoking. The American Legacy Foundation had the Truth Campaign, the campaign for tobacco-free kids. The federal government was only given jurisdiction to do this four years ago --

ZELLER: That's right.

TAPPER: -- because the Supreme Court in the '90s ruled that you didn't have the power.

Why is it taking you so long since four years ago until now to come up with these ads?


ZELLER: It took us more than two years to do all the homework, to do all the research. It takes time to get the right messages. These are very difficult to reach kids, open to smoking, close to lectures. But if you talk to them about health consequences, like wrinkling skin and losing teeth, they pay attention to us.

TAPPER: And in fact, you're rolling these ads out next week. The one we played was fairly tame compared to the other ones. You show kids pealing off their skin, losing teeth.

Explain that strategy.

ZELLER: The strategy is kids need to feel the immediacy of the health consequences of smoking. A lot of the kids that we talk to, even though they smoke, they don't call themselves smokers. When they think about cancer and heart disease and lung disease, it's so much later in life. But far more research and the reason it took time is if you talk to them about loss of control, if you talk to them about wrinkling skin and losing teeth, that gets their attention.

TAPPER: So you say if you say to them, you'll have cancer, you will develop lung cancer or skin cancer, you will lose your teeth, they think OK, but that's like future me.

ZELLER: Or it won't happen to me at all.

TAPPER: It won't happen to me at all. But if you show them doing it now --

ZELLER: That's what our research shows, and this is about their appearance. This is about health consequences, about the things that really matter to them.

TAPPER: All right. Mitch Zeller, good luck with the campaign. Thanks for coming in. We appreciate it.

ZELLER: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD: new ammunition for Republicans as a bipartisan study says Obamacare could have an effect on more than 2 million Americans and whether or not they are in the workforce. How the White House is responding, next.

And later, he's figured out a way to win on "Jeopardy" and it's annoying some fans of the game show. I'll ask the latest "Jeopardy" champ about his strategy and the push back, ahead.